Ground Water Canada

Aging infrastructure top water risk, Canadian study says

April 16, 2018  By Ground Water Canada

Halifax – Risks associated with Canada’s water supply – among them cyber risks – are becoming more and more complex, uncertain and ambiguous, and require new strategies, suggests a new study from the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association, Public Safety Canada, and Dalhousie University.

The study identified the risks in order of likelihood and severity:

  1. Aging infrastructure
  2. Severe storms
  3. Loss of power
  4. Suppliers (e.g., transportation suppliers)
  5. Contamination of source water (including reservoirs)
  6. Chemical release/spill
  7. Unauthorized access to premises
  8. Flooding                                                                                        
  9. Drought
  10. Malware (e.g., viruses, worms, Trojans)
  11. Insider threats (e.g., disgruntled/former employees)
  12. Visitors (including visitors from foreign countries)
  13. Hacking
  14. Tornado
  15. Phishing/spear phishing/watering hole
  16. Earthquake

Traditional risks associated with the water supply were understood to be simple risks, the study said. Threats like chemical or bacterial contaminations were thought to be largely understood and measurable, and water and wastewater operators developed comparatively straightforward protective measures to guard against them.


However, risks associated with the water supply are increasingly becoming complex, uncertain and ambiguous. Governments face disagreements over how best to respond to aging infrastructure, a complex risk; terrorism, an uncertain risk; and fracking, an ambiguous risk.

These new and emerging types of risks require different types of engagement strategies. Complex risks require close engagement with experts as well as consideration for the public’s concerns.

Uncertain risks are volatile enough that experts alone are not able to predict their impact, requiring that organizations increase their resilience and examine their tolerance for failure in their supply or intake systems.

Ambiguous risks are the most politically contentious and require close engagement with stakeholder groups in order to build a consensus about the nature of the risks and an appropriate response to them, the report said.

Read the full report.

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